Upcoming exhibit at the Harold Washington Library

March 20, 2014

Hello, faithful readers.

I have an upcoming exhibit of my artwork at the Harold Washington Library!  Check out the announcement about it, which should be up in a few days.  Please do come on by.

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I will also be hosting three Open Studio visits at my space in the Bridgeport Art Center as well; while it’s true that there is an open studio every third Friday of the month between 6 and 10 pm, in honor of my Harold Washington show I’ll be hosting three events with a little more pizazz, more prizes, and more libations.  Don’t miss the Big Reveal of my four newest works.  Hope to see you in Bridgeport, just just pick your favorite day: April 18th, May 16th, or June 20th.

As if that weren’t enough, I’ll be presenting a Paper and Photo Preservation Basics Workshop on Saturday, the 24th of May, also at the Harold Washington. Here’s the lowdown:  “Do you still have your high school yearbooks?  Does your sister call you the family historian?  Do you know where the nearest scrapbook store is?  Then maybe I can help.  For one afternoon only, stop on by the Paper and Photo Preservation Basics Workshop for some guidance on how to best care for your treasured artifacts.  No question is too small.  Come hear a local archivist and special collections librarian who is willing to reveal all.  Participants are welcome to bring one treasured paper item for a free alkaline buffer.”

Everything in its right place.  I even have a post on the Chicago Artists Resource tumblr as of the 11th of March – search for Vaucanson’s Workshop to see three of my works writ large.

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The Electro-Map Menagerie → Photo Graphic

July 25, 2007

You may already know about Flickr, the wonderful online photographic scrapbook that people are updating from all corners of the globe. But have you seen David Troy’s Flickrvision?

I first came across an application like this through WFMU, my vote for one of the modern Wonders of the World. During their last fund-raising marathon, enterprising DJ KenzoDB created the Marathon Map using Google Maps technology with a bit of TerraMetrics, NASA and Europa Technologies as well. This ingenious little application would track pledges from around the globe and highlight them real time, as well as make space for commentary if the generous soul wished to say something to the WFMU community at large. As I monitored their progress each day to make sure they reached the year’s fund-raising goal (which they did, yay!) I also checked in to see who was pledging and from where. Perhaps not quite a pan-continental phenomenon, they did manage to score pledges from I believe four continents. A nifty trick.

Well, Flickrvision does the idea one better. It tracks the most recently uploaded photography from around the world and pinpoints its origin for you while showing you a snapshot portrait of the fresh-from-the-oven content. I could watch it for hours….bowling in China, a Korea-Canadian baby, a dog from Seattle and…that’s weird, a note to “The Rotten Thief Who Cleaned Out Our Bank Account.” I didn’t know people photographed word documents to post on Flickr but there you go. I hope they find the culprit, that’s sad.

I don’t think I have anything to say after that.

Tomorrow, a visit to Les Cites Obscures.


Degradation of the Image

June 14, 2007

“Novelty, give us novelty, seems to be the cry, heaven and earth and the wide sea cannot obtain the forms and fancies that are here displayed . . . like the whimsies of madness.”

Henry Cole, Journal of Design vol. 1, p.74 (1849)

I am still working my way through Mechanization Takes Command by Sigfried Giedion, and it is a monster of an analysis. His book, from 1948, tries to encompass nearly every strata of civilization affected by the advent of mechanization, and remarkably he is spot on more often than off the mark. In earlier chapters he has tackled the mechanization of lock making, slaughterhouses, agriculture, home comfort, libraries, bread-making, scientific management, tools, furniture, and even devoted a chapter to incubating eggs.

His personal specialty, however, is architecture, and in particular the historical human relationship to space. After a hundred or so pages delving into rococo, high Gothic and Flanders styles, Romanesque chairs and Dutch kitchens, he is finally getting back to the focus of his argument, and it is diverting me from all kinds of work I should be doing for school.

I can remember, since my freshman year of high school when I first really thought about the Industrial Age, being obsessed with the meaning of mechanization. For me, to understand what industrialization wrought is the key to comprehending our lives today. America was always central to the global shift toward mechanization, since we obliterated whatever history pre-existed us. We simply do not live intimately with history the same way that the rest of the world does. I’ve traveled enough to feel, if only for a short while, what it is like to live side by side with history.

I am thinking of: Rotterdam’s new architectural face after war-time obliteration; the bombed out cathedral in Coventry’s city center, left in ruins as a powerful memorial; many thousands of Buddhist Wats co-existing with modern Thailand, tucked behind state of the art hospitals, in the heart of the Golden Triangle, or nestled amongst the gaudy glitter and pomp of Siam Square, Bangkok; or perhaps Luang Prabang in Laos, a UNESCO world heritage city, whose central planning and roadways have not changed for over a thousand years, except for a paved central road.

Chiang Mai, or northwestern Thailand

For me, it’s a very emotional aspect of spending time with people, while I’m visiting their homeland…growing to understand a little bit of where I am, what shaped it over time, and how my momentary companions live in it. It’s hard to explain, now that I am putting it in words, and I probably should quote bits from my travel journals, if I could find the right passages. I’ve all-too rarely felt it, so meaningfully, but in every place I’ve mentioned, the weight of history was a palpable presence — a communicative quality.

I am certain that the power of history affects me the way it does because of my parents as well. I am first generation American; my parents are Hungarian refugees who fled Soviet occupied Hungary in ’56, during the revolution. Growing up I was always aware of this, even if I was mostly silent about it, and the trips my family made to Europe in the eighties are with me still today. Berlin before the wall fell, waiting in food lines in Hungary, and seeing the tanks with manned, roof-mounted howitzers…

I have often felt as though I was born in the wrong century. Accounts of life hundreds of years ago, or looking at tintypes from the 1800s, or reading about the advent of movable type and early 16th century book fairs, all seem so real to me. Of course, growing up in Jersey just outside of NYC, it would be disingenuous to imply that I’m not thoroughly modern in my mindset, or passionate about living today. I am learning XHTML and CSS so that I can help libraries thrive now, to encourage the free flow of information to all in an equitable way, to be a web DJ after grad school, and to get my collages out there in a way that helps me connect with other artists globally. (I hope to pick up some Perl and Javascript along the way as well…)

So I continue to read Giedion, and think about what he is implying. For him, mechanization is a neutral phenomena. The crux of the 18th century societal sea change is in the mindset that encouraged a spread of mechanization to all spheres of life, the underlying cultural milieu. Our industrial age is not yet over, despite the death knell sounded by many supposed “experts” over the years. It inhabits, and shapes, our emerging information age, and historically it is quite young. So what is it, exactly, that changed all those years ago?

As a good friend of mine, Bobby, once realized, “everything is design.” Really, one morning he woke with this realization, and he hasn’t quite been the same since. He even went into newspaper design as a result, after 14 years as a bookseller, and soon he hopes to expand his professional duties. What he meant, the realization that knocked him flat on his ass, was this: from the minutiae to the grand, every aspect of our environment is designed in some way.

And he’s right. From the architecture of our language, the cut of our clothes, hair and appearance, from the streets to our airspace, to our food and water, our homes, the framework of our relationships, it’s all in some way designed. Even supposedly open public spaces are increasingly compartmentalized, parsed out to various special interests for any number of purposes: burning, clear cutting, fishing, off-roading, etc. As many recent articles have discussed, dogs are currently a massive experiment in eugenics, the playground for ambitious geneticists. No longer content to selectively cross breed as agriculturalists have done for centuries, no longer content to grow ears on the back of mice and add jellyfish genes to rabbits to make them glow, we will likely have few dogs left in a generation or two that are not in some way reshaped by human science.

Alba, the Glowing Bunny

(Alba, the glowing bunny, is a link to an article from American Scholar about the Human Genome Project)

All of this comes back to mechanization for me, and our relationship to the symbols that make up our lives. Giedion talks about the degradation of symbols, how 18th century France under Napoleon’s rule was a hotbed of modernist re-imagination. By widely disseminating an opulent, disassociated relationship to the symbols of status and statehood, Napoleon encouraged a nascent mindset that thrives today. Essentially, coincident with the rise of rationalism and the foundation of the United States, emerged widespread devaluation of natural resources and symbolic imagination. Where up until that point objects were valued for their utility and function, now the object in and of itself was valued.

Giedion’s argument is extensive and thorough, and I can hardly touch upon the details here. The main point is that, with a shift from valuing the material used to fabricate goods to valuing the goods themselves, we completely reorganized our mental and physical relationships with each other and our environs. We began to ignore the connection between ourselves and what is external to our immediate senses, by willfully placing our own system of understanding before any shared relationships. This is how we came to use stopwatches to break down the work day into discrete motions by assembly line employees with scientific management. This is how Harold Edgerton was able to capture the movement of a bullet through a playing card, or an apple. This is why the nude descended the staircase. Like mechanization, a potentially neutral shift, but one with unavoidable consequences if left unexamined.

In the first generation or two, several movements emerged to counterbalance this shift, such as Henry Cole’s reformists, but … time marches on.

“We have left no imprint of our age either on our dwellings, on our gardens, or on anything else…we have culled something from every century but our own…we live off fragments.”

Alfred de Musset, 1836.

Un Semaine de Bonte, First Book

I have a love affair with Max Ernst, I must admit. Siegfried Giedion uses a lot of artwork to supplement his points, and I really appreciate that approach. He focuses a lot on collage, and especially my idol, Max Ernst. When I was 16 years old I came across a copy of Un Semaine de Bonte, one of his collage novels. It struck me like a thunderbolt, and each year as I get older I feel like it grows with me, continually nudging me a little further toward understanding my age, and my contemporary brethren. I am only now starting to appreciate what the dadaists and surrealists were really exposing, what Aleksandr Rodchenkho, Dziga Vertov and their fellow artists in Russia were unconsciously making sense of. I opened up Un Semaine de Bonte today, after a few years absence, and right on the first “day” of the novel is a lion, staring at Napoleon. I feel like Giedion is gently whispering to me, as he lifts my head and my eyes, tying a loose string across my heart…

“You will not be able to take joy in the world until you feel the ocean flowing in your veins, until you clothe yourself with the heavens and crown yourself with the stars, and see yourself as the sole heir of the whole world — and more than that, for there are people living on it who, like you, are the sole heirs.”

Thomas Traherne Centuries of Meditation (1638-1674)


Cortometraje de Virgil Widrich

May 20, 2007

Any fans of animation, especially the more unusual (Svankmajer, Bickford and maybe Karel Zeman) branch of things, may appreciate this distillation of cinema by Virgil Widrich. I just came across this, and it is incredible. I aspire to make collage animations myself, as soon as I can afford a 5 to 7 megapixel monster myself, and this little video is particularly inspiring.

I am an enormous film buff, having watched way too many hours of anything I can get my hands on. I am recently into the dawn of cinema, especially the documentaries by Russian innovator Dziga Vertov. I have a personal goal to watch at least one film from every single year since the dawn of motion pictures, and I think I only have about twenty years left to find films from. (Meaning, since 1893, there are only twenty missed years, mostly from 1903 to 1925, yet somehow I’ve seen nothing from 1953. A genuine mystery…)

Some months it’s just martial arts films, sometimes avant feminist Czech cinema from the 60s and 70s (which, by the way, if you haven’t seen Daisies by Věra Chytilová and are receptive to magisterial, surreal visions a la Buñuel, you should check it out), sometimes just TV shows from around the world on Youtube. So, here it is, Fast Film by Virgil Widrich for your viewing pleasure.

Let me know what you think.


Anonymous History

May 13, 2007

“History is a magical mirror. Who peers into it sees his own image in the shape of events and developments. It is never stilled. It is ever in movement, like the generation observing it. Its totality cannot be embraced: History bares itself only in facets, which fluctuate with the vantage point of the observer.”–Siegfried Giedion, Mechanization Takes Command

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